Category Archives: Life On The Ranch

At The End Of The Road

 

You might recall the stray dog that wandered onto our ranch several years ago that we named Little Jack Kerouac. We named him after the author of the same name who wrote On The Road and who was the forerunner of a beatnik. Our Little Jack had been wandering the county roads of Gillespie County for months and had traveled many miles when the skinny pup was finally herded into a corner of our yard by our Border collies. The small brown dog was half-starved and intensely fearful. His fear, nevertheless, relented before a succulent piece of fried chicken, prompting the little brown dog to climb into my arms.

Despite his bad condition from his long tenure as a road dog, it became apparent that he had been neutered and house broken. These aspects suggested at one time Jack had enjoyed a close relationship with a human friend.

Yours truly ready to work on the ranch with assistants Jack and Bella.

We still don’t know what all he encountered as a road dog and Jack isn’t talking. We suspect he must have scrounged whatever he could find to eat including roadkill. We know Jack is a canny survivor.

His breeding has proved an ongoing mystery. When asked what breed he is, we finally gave up guessing and simply began replying, “He’s a Texas Brown Dog.”

Since Jack’s arrival, let’s just say… he’s matured and settled in well. He has adapted to his new home on a hill at the end of his very long road.

Sometime ago I wrote several blog pieces on Jack stealthily loading himself into various vehicles and stowing away for rides. We do not think he was trying to escape his adopted home but that he merely wanted to go for rides. Fortunately, after a few bad moments of being unable to locate Little Jack, we were able to place phone calls and have him returned.

Jack is no longer the skinny road dog he once was. He has, in fact, chunked up. He still loves to go on ranch walks, run errands and ride in the pickup. Whereas the Borders ride in the bed of the pickup, Little Jack proudly expects to sit on the console in the cab where, if hot, the AC is on and, if cold, the heater warms him. He likes his creature comforts.

When our Borders are let out of the pickup to exercise by running up the hill to the house, Jack preemptively jumps off the console and hides in the back seat. No silly running up the hill for Little Jack. Why get out of a perfectly good pickup and wear out my foot pads?

At night Jack has inched his way closer and closer to the head of the bed. Initially when he came into our lives he slept under the bed or on a nearby dog bed. He later transferred to the foot of the bed. Now Trudy and I find the little rascal snuggled between us, his head lying on a soft pillow. Imagine going from the hard life of a road dog to a pillow top mattress!

Jack likely thinks, “Heck with Pearl Buck’s ideas of a place in the sun, I have a soft mattress in an air conditioned home.” When asleep, he becomes an almost immovable lump. If Trudy or I get up in the middle of the night, he migrates to the vacated warm spot, claims it, and is difficult to dislodge.

It’s said every dog has its purpose. The purpose of our Border collies is clear, herding our cattle. Jack’s purpose has been harder to determine. Surprisingly, he sometimes has helped the Border collies with herding. But mainly Jack is a varmint dog and represents an absolute terror for squirrels and armadillos. This job of protecting the world from squirrels and armadillos, though, is not full time for our Little Jack.

Several years ago my mother came to live with us and it was then that we learned what Jack’s real job was–companionship. My elderly mother would sit on the couch for hours with Jack snuggled up against her, stroking his furry head. He returned her affection with gentle licks and made his belly available for endless scratching. Mom and Jack became thick as thieves, although we worried my Mom might rub Jack’s head bald.

“I think I can still feel the pea!”

My mother possessed a huge capacity to love, and in her final years she so enjoyed Jack’s companionship. Jack became a willing recipient for her love, and in turn he reciprocated his love for her. I’m convinced Jack made her final days much happier.

I suppose companionship is the major role for many dogs. Dogs have such an amazing ability to relate to humans, to sense their emotions, and to offer their unconditional love. It takes all kinds of dogs, but Jack has stolen our hearts and in their places left behind his paw prints.

May The Force Be With You

The well known statement from “Star Wars” that serves as the title for this piece has of late developed special meaning for me. Perhaps I am still under the emotional overhang of my father’s recent passing, but the ease by which he passed has meaning for me. Dad died at the age of 96-years peacefully and in his sleep. His force to live diminished in his final months to a point where he was no longer walking, then no longer chewing, and then even refusing to swallow liquid supplements. His life force slowly ebbed away.

Dad (John Howard Hutton) when his life force was strong

In juxtaposition with Dad’s dying process has been my observation of an unfortunate, recently born calf on our ranch. Now I am in no way equating the value of the two lives, only making a comparison of their life forces.

Newest bottle calf being fed by Trudy with his good-for-nothing, calf-stomping mother looking on

The calf was refused milk by his mother for reasons unknown. Not only that but she kicked the calf nearly to unconsciousness when he tried to nurse. Later the mother calf became spooked and backed up, stomping her calf. Frankly I thought she had killed it.

Nevertheless, the following morning the previous “calf carcass” took a full bottle of milk. What a surprise! He’s not developed normally but is still making slow progress. He has a left front leg injury, one of the several spots where his mother stepped on him. Our newest bottle calf refused to die and continues to gain weight and hobbles about to a limited degree. I sometimes have to provide extra lift for the calf for him to get onto his four wobbly legs. As he grows, this may become a serious problem.

Given his miraculous survival, we refer to him as Phoenix. He rose off the pasture where he was near death and now greets Trudy and me with his long eyelashes for which Madonna would be envious, lovely dark eyes, and enthusiastic sucking at the milk bottle that sustains his life.

Mythological Phoenix

He still is not guaranteed survival. It seems his legs are too weak at times to get him up or possibly too painful. His walking is unsteady and wobbly and Phoenix tends to fall on uneven ground.

Nevertheless, Phoenix possesses a strong life force. I suppose this has to do with his young age and strong survival instincts. Regarding my Father, I cannot help but believe that after 96-years and having lived a full life that his life force had diminished down to nothing.

Grandson Graham earlier today feeding a somewhat older Phoenix

I recall the answer my grandmother gave when I asked her as a child what it was like to get old. She said, “Tommy, you just get tired.” I think she was right. Increasing fatigue accompanies age and illness. In my experience as a physician, folks just kind of give up at some point and are ready to die. Age seems to have a lot to do with it.

In my recently published book, Carrying The Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales I tell the story of a little girl with Reye’s Syndrome who by all accounts should have died. Despite an absolutely horrible prognosis she lived and thrived. I believe her young age had much to do with her survival. The force was with her.

To my readers, “May the force be with you,” by which I imply continued strong life forces and may you enjoy vital life in the years ahead.

Welcome Home Gentle Giant

Our bull’s injury is the biggest news this week from Medicine Spirit Ranch. Curly, our Charolais bull, recently developed an unwillingness to place weight on his right back leg. His ankle swelled and he hobbled around on just three legs. After loading him into the trailer and hauling him across town to our vet’s clinic, we learned why this was. Curly had developed an abscess from a cut on his hoof. Ouch! That must have really hurt, big guy.

Curly, our Charolais bull

Hauling Curly is always a memorable experience. Our small cattle trailer can hold up to ten calves but hauling them is less difficult than when hauling Curly by himself.  He is so large he weighs down the trailer such that the back end of the pickup and the trailer hitch reach almost to the ground. When Curly shifts his weight in the trailer, the whole pickup lurches. It makes for quite a ride. Our vet, who sees plenty of bulls in his work, even commented on what a large but gentle bull he is.

Curly spent a week at the vet’s receiving antibiotics. During this time he was limited to a stall, a large one but limiting for sure. I don’t recall him ever being confined before, and he didn’t like it. I know he was hurting, but somehow I think his apparent discontent resulted less from his injury and more from his unusual location and lack of his herd.

I may be over interpreting, but Curly did not look happy at the vet’s. This proud king-of-his-herd guy was dirty, seemed to have lost interest in what was going around him, and appeared to mope. These are not typical behaviors for our Charolais bull. Can bulls become depressed? He sure looked it.

After recently receiving the call from the clinic saying he was ready to come home. I attached the trailer to my pickup. I headed into town to load and haul Curly back to his ranch, his green pastures, and his waiting herd. The herd had even expanded in his absence by three new calves.

While Curly still moves around slowly, he now does so on all four hooves. We no longer have a three legged bull which I consider a very good thing. I don’t think Curly would be able to do his job on one hind leg.  Curly also appears happier now that he is back at his own ranch.

Our gentle giant- “Open wide for a range cube”

 

GUESS IT JUST GOES TO SHOW, OUR GENTLE GIANT IS A HOMEBODY.

Buddy, “Nice to see you again Curly.”

Bonus Calves

Woo hoo!!! Three bonus calves were born this week. That is, mama cows purchased in September with calves already by their side, and now have given birth to yet another unanticipated calf. The average price for the pair, now the trio, just went down. What a bargain!

Surprise, bet you weren’t expecting me!

The bonus calves have white faces with the remainder black or brown. Our Charolais bull does not throw this color calf with our Black Baldies, but instead throws smoky colored calves, light brown or gray. Also the cow gestation period of nine and a half months just doesn’t work for our Charolais bull. Sorry Curly you can’t claim parentage!

Curly, the bonus calves stepdaddy

These are small calves compared to our usual smoky calves. With an Angus daddy, the calves start  smaller than with a Charolais daddy.  All three of the bonus calves are heifers. Perhaps I will let them grow and given their different genetics, make them into new producers for the ranch. Now that is an additional bonus.

The first bonus heifer at one week of age. Note smoky calf on right and a longhorn/charlolais cross in foreground

Baby calves are so cute no matter their lineage. Must admit though when I saw the first I took a double take. You can imagine my surprise after the third. Life is sweet. Spring calves are one of the highlights of springtime on our cattle ranch. Hoping you too find bonuses in your lives during this lovely season.

Spring Bluebonnets

As predictable as spring calves in Texas are the coming of bluebonnets. These surprisingly hardy flowers grow along the roadside, in pastures, and even in bad soil. The bluebonnets and other wild flowers were once so widespread in Texas that a 19th century Texas Ranger once wrote that he could ride all day and never get off a carpet of wild flowers. The bluebonnets were said to be stirrup high and at times even to impede his progress. Forcing him to slow up and focus on nature’s beauty may have had behavioral benefits.

Considering that Texas Rangers were usually in pursuit of cattle rustlers, murderers, horse thieves, and Comanche on the warpath what an impact the peaceful bluebonnet must have had. Despite the violent ways of men, the hardy flower would grow and thrive and suggest a peaceful, calming effect for all.

Unsurprisingly, the bluebonnet became the official State flower of Texas. Rest assured this wild flower was around long before Texans. The Native Americans in this area, principally the Comanche, had a legend as to how the bluebonnet came about.

Since Views From Medicine Spirit Ranch derives from the “strong medicine” offered this area by this earlier culture, it only seems appropriate to share the Comanche legend on the origin of Bluebonnets here. It is as follows:

Comanche Long ago upon the great plains of Texas a young Comanche child named Stars-In-The-Sky lived with her family in her small Indian wicoti mitawa ( whi-coe-tee mi-tah-wah ), which means village. Each morning before the Wi ( wee ), sun rose in the Skan ( skhan ), sky Stars-In-The-Sky’s father, Mato’hota ( mahtoe’ – hoe -tah ), Grizzly Bear would leave their little village with the other warriors to go hunting for tatanka ( tah-tahn-kah ) buffalo. Lately when the warriors came back to the village in the han-yetu ( hahn-yeetoo ), nighttime no buffalo would have been sighted. Without the buffalo to provide for all their needs, Stars-In-The-Sky’s village slowly began to starve.Months passed and the summer days came into being. As is usual in Texas, summer drought dried up the rain and drove the smaller animals into the deep piney woods far from Stars-In-The-Sky’s village. With the smaller animals gone and the buffalo not yet returning to the area surrounding her tribe, the men turned to the guidance of Keema the Wicasa Wankan ( wih-cahsa wahn-kahn ) Holy Man of the village. Keema decided the warriors of the village must raise their voices together and pray to Nagi Tanka ( nahgee tahn-kah ), the Great Spirit, to ask for the rain to fall and the buffalo to come back.

One night later, when the moon was full in the sky, Keema gathered the men on a high bluff overlooking the village and plains. With one old, gnarled hand clutch around a burning cedar bow, Keema thrust the burning stick into a large pile of branches that had been gathered by the women and younger girls of the village earlier in the day.

The Holy Man stretched his arms to the sky and pleaded with the Great Spirit, ” Hey-Ay-Hee-Ee, Nagi Tanka! Bring back the rain, bring back the buffalo!” Deep into the night Keema prayed until his voice was rough and feeble from his freverent prayers and his eyes gritty and tired with unshed tears.

As Stars-In-The-Sky lay in her tepee listening to the sounds from the bluff, she wondered what she could do to help her family and the people she loved. She pondered what she, such a small girl, could give the Great Spirit to make him happy. Stars-In-The-Sky’s pride and joy was a small, handmade, leather doll her family had made her on her last birthday when she had turned eight years old. Stars-In-The-Sky’s father, Mato’hota (grizzly bear) had caught all the animals needed for the skins to make the doll’s body and dress. Her Ina’ ( eenah ) mother, had taken the time to dye and bead the small dress, and had used hair off her own scalp to make the dolly’s long, beautiful braids. Even her small brother Ki-ri-ki ( kee-ree-kee ), Bright Eyes had helped by donating a bluejay feather he had found last spring when the first bluejays had crossed in the sky. Stars-In-The-Sky was very proud of her doll.

With all of this running through her mind, Stars-In-The-Sky decided the best thing to do was to give her favorite thing to the Great Spirit. When she herd the men come back to the village and her father come into the teepee, she pretended to be asleep. As soon as her father fell into a deep, steady sleep Stars-In-The-Sky crept out of her sleeping furs and into the still night.

Her doll clutched in her trembling hand, she made her way up to the still glowing embers of the bonfire on the bluff. Holding her doll tightly to her chest and crying softly Stars-In-The-Sky started praying, “Hey – Ay- Hee- Ee, Nagi Tanka!

I am but a small, insignificant girl but I am trying wohitika (woah-hit-tih-kah ) to be brave. My younger brother is so hungry as is my whole village. Give me a So-an-ge-ta-ha ( soh- ahn – gee- tah- hah ) strong heart, Nagi Tanka. I beg you! Except my dolly as a gift in exchange for my village, my people, my family. I beg you! Pilimaya Nagi Tanka! ( pill- ah- mae- yah nahgee tahn-kah ) thank you, Great Spirit.”

As Stars-In-The-Sky finished her prayer she gave her beloved doll one last hug and then threw it into the fire. She turned away from the fire, paused to look over her shoulder one last time, saw the fire catch the dolly’s buckskin dress fire, and then walked proudly back to the village.

The next morning Stars-In-The-Sky was awakened by loud shouts outside her teepee. She crawled out of her sleeping furs and went to the tent flap to see what all the commotion was about. As Stars-In-The-Sky looked out she was amazed by what she saw. All over the prairie and covering the surrounding hills grew a strange, bright, blue flower the same color blue as a springtime bluejay feather.

For Stars-In-The-Sky and her village this flower was a blessing from Nagi Tanka. They found they could eat this flower and hold off starvation. With this flower as an ample supply of food small game came back into the area. When the buffalo came back, the large herds seemed to love this new blue flower.

The Comanche tribe called this flower Buffalo Grass in honor of the returning herds. When the wasichu( wah- sih -shoe ) white man came into this part of the country and made it into the state of Texas they renamed and adopted it as the state flower; The Texas Bluebonnet.


Spring- How Lovely You Are

Bluebonnets & Paints

Spring is my favorite season. How can it not be? It’s is a colorful rebirth following the grayness of winter. New fawns and calves on wobbly legs appear, baby birds fly tentatively from their nests, calves wear milky mustaches, bushes blossom, multicolored wild flowers including the locally favorite bluebonnets suddenly erupt, and the trees leaf out in spring green. All signal the yearly, joyous rebirth and infuses us with new found energy, hope, and ambition.

Along with such beauty comes a need to prepare the ranch for the season. In past weeks we’ve taken to whacking down thistle plants (weeds) choosing to grow in my pastures and crowding out grass my stock so greatly needs. The spring calves have needed working and the horses show new found friskiness.

Our paint horse Fancy and Doc’s nose

A foggy day at the ranch

Fences require mending and cedar needs lopping. The physical work feels good but also fatigues me now more than it used to.

Life seems more vivid, more intense, and hopeful in the springtime. It’s also busier and wearing. Gosh, I love it so and hope i can keep up with it all. A joyous spring to all!

A Farewell To…A Heron

I’ve written several blog pieces lately on a Great Blue Heron that has daily visited our stock tank. The heron and I have developed a predictable morning routine.  Initially I find it perched atop a tree on the opposite bank. Then I throw fish food into the pond. I backtrack to my pickup from where I watch the heron glide gracefully across the stock tank (what a sight with its immense six foot wing span), land, and creep to its protected spot alongside the water. There it stealthily awaits a fish meal to swim by. When this occurs and with lightning like reflexes, it dives into the water to retrieve a fish. Our routine has become part of my morning ritual and, frankly, I’ve come to enjoy and expect it.

This is not really my heron but a look alike. Mine is too camera shy to allow me to snap a good image of it.

This is not really my heron but a look alike. Mine is too camera shy to allow me to snap a good image of it.

Imagine my disappointment the past two weeks when the heron has failed to show up. Initially I shrugged it off as happenstance, as the heron had at times missed a single day. Now it seems all too clear that the heron has left our ranch for another lofty perch.

Spring has sprung in the Texas Hill Country. The Red Bud trees have blossomed and the Bluebonnets are up. The Live Oak trees are  changing over their leaves. Perhaps with the changing of the season, the heron has taken on new territory to fish. Alternatively, my heron may have fallen for a mate and been lured away by surging hormones- Spring is known to do that after all. I can only hope my heron has not befallen some worse fate, a consideration I’m loathe to even consider.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled each morning for the Great Blue Heron but fear it has departed the area or at least left my stock tank. If so,it leaves behind both good memories and hopefully good luck. To be sure, I shall miss its gorgeous flight, its prowess at fishing, its gorgeous appearance, its curious waddling gait, and the way it folds itself into a small package just at the edge of the water.

Come to think of it, The Great Blue Heron may just have tired of my bluegill! Why not for a change dine on Guadalupe bass or fat head minnows?

Farewell Great Blue Heron. You will be missed.